“I Voted.” Small sticker, precious step

Today I’m as powerful as Sheldon Adelson, Sean Hannity, Paul Ryan, John Roberts, David Axelrod or Elizabeth Warren.

My vote counts as much as each of theirs. And as I cast my vote today my heart lifted. I could feel it. For too many months I’ve been worrying and griping and moaning and arguing and living in fear of the unthinkable. An hour ago I took action. I feel empowered.

img_5163Our country has flaws. Disparity of rich and poor. Gross overconsumption of the planet’s resources. Poor education and a paucity of hope for too many. A system designed by those who already have the most to assure they get more. And our election system is far from perfect. Voter suppression. Hanging chads. Too much influence by the wealthiest. Gerrymandered districts that permit little challenge to incumbents.

But I just cast a vote that counts the same as Barack Obama’s. And it will be counted. The regular citizens who handed me the ballot and watched me slide it in the machine are the volunteer custodians of the dream the founders dreamed. My Uncle Bob died in World War II to protect the vote I cast today. John Lewis had his skull cracked to preserve the right of all of us to not just speak up about where we’re going as a country but to put our hands on the wheel.

There was a man standing at the corner of the street that leads to our local government center where Lisa and I voted. He was showing the world a life-size picture of Hillary Clinton behind bars. I firmly believe he’ll be disappointed a week from today. And as we drove past him I felt less of the despair I’ve been feeling for months, despair that the candidate he supports might actually, how could this possibly be true, win the election. I felt less depressed because I had just taken action. I had voted. To turn away that man’s vision and to bring my own closer to the light.

In a world full of despots I stood up and said to the preposterous, self-absorbed, ignorant, immature poseur who would be president: “I banish thee. Slink back under the foul rock you crawled out from. Begone.” Little old me, a guy of scant power, wealth or influence. But a guy with a vote.

In the car, Lisa and I did a Barack-Michelle fist bump. Is this a great country or what?

— Bruce Benidt

Give the Women the Keys, Please

NEW SLAUGHTERThe gist of a “Daily Show” bit last week was, given the open sewer of fake rage, naked opportunism and incompetence that is Congress today, what sort of person even wants the title of U.S. Representative? “Reporter” Aasif Mandvi began with a personable state legislator — a woman — out in California who is resisting pleadings from state Democrats to run for Congress. As I translated her explanation it was, “Oh good lord, the place is an open sewer of … “.

So no, she isn’t interested, today. Smart gal.

Cut to GOP Cong. Steve Latourette, a kind of go-to guy for Capitol reporters looking for something crusty, cranky and vaguely wise from a Republican currently serving on The Hill. (That last one takes some doing.) The conclusion of that conversation? The only people running in the present environment are “ass[bleeps]”. In fact unless you’re an ass[bleep], don’t even try because you’ll be forced into connecting with your inner ass[bleep] by an opponent way more of an ass[bleep] than you can ever be.

(My wife tells me I cuss too much on this blog, and that I’m polluting a thoughtful environment populated by bona fide communications professionals, real adults, who instinctively no better than use harsh or inflammatory language where they might be quoted. Hence the [bleep].)

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In the Light of the Morning After …

A few comments and questions on the morning after …

A: The “fight for the soul of the Republican party” requires that sober-minded pragmatists within the party have the guts to stand up to their radical, alienating insurgent wing. With two more Tea Party-driven losses in the Senate, (in Indiana and Missouri), common sense would suggest that the far … far … right should instantly and wholly lose credibility among the party’s “more moderate” leadership and major donors. But … unless the party somehow reworks its primary system and simultaneously de-legitimizes the influence of that wing’s primary thought-shapers — rich-as-Croesus evangelical ministries, talk radio and FoxNews — what few moderates there are will continue to live in fear of torpedoing their own careers if they don’t continue to pander to their party’s least-productive elements. Hell, even Mitch McConnell is worrying about a primary challenge from someone far to the right of him. Even this morning I’m getting e-mail from Tea Party groups arguing — predictably — that Romney, like Bob Dole and John McCain lost because “only real conservatives get elected”.

B: This fundamental strategic problem is umbilically-linked to the party’s lack of appeal among women and minorities, especially “illegals” as so many of them like to describe Hispanics, a group closing in on 20% of the population. What “soul-saver” among viable Republicans dares run with a message of protecting a woman’s individual rights AND compassionate immigration reform? Maybe Marco Rubio on the latter. (A favorite factoid from the last days of the campaign: Had Romney drawn George W. Bush’s numbers among Latinos, he’d have won several swing states.)

C: Barack Obama’s support among white women was the mirror image of his (lack of) support among white men. To which I ask, “How has the experience of white women been so much different/better with Obama — or black men — than that of white males?” My wife argues it’s because women, despite being 52% of the electorate still regard themselves as a minority, certainly in terms of holding political power. I suspect women are far less threatened by a black leader than white men.

D: The Catholic church did itself serious moral damage with its medieval-zealot push on the gay marriage amendment here and around the country. Coupled with the taint of evangelical “craziness” throughout the GOP primaries — and that irrationality’s effect on Romney’s credibility — the drift away from organized religion in this country will probably accelerate.

E:  In terms of 11th hour factors, Romney’s flagrant lies about Chrysler moving Jeep production to China had far more impact on “freezing his momentum” than superstorm Sandy. Moreover, had he wanted to counter the President’s leaderly posture overseeing disaster relief he could have written a personal check of several million dollars to the Red Cross, or coordinated with Karl Rove and other allies to do the same, rather than burning off excess cash on advertising in states where he had no chance in hell — like Minnesota. If you are as rich as Romney, the average guy/gal assumes you’ll step up when things get really bad. I doubt it even crossed his mind.

F: We have entered a new era in political polling, or at least the aggregation/collated end of polling. It is eery how accurate the “Nate Silver model” was last night. And this will only improve.

G: Post-victory and across the pundit spectrum this morning the sage counsel is that “the President must reach across the aisle”. As though he and he alone must “seek compromise”. Recognition of the 1000-pound gorilla presence of the GOP’s far-right insurgency is still not considered “balanced” among the vast majority of mainstream commentators. Good luck accurately reporting the story of the next two months if that’s your default ethic.

H: Finally — for now — the public appetite for a female presidential candidate in 2016 is palpable. I somehow doubt the GOP’s highest profile women — Michele Bachmann — have anything remotely approaching the broad-based appeal of Hillary Clinton (whose popularity has never been as high, but who may decide her time has passed) or freshly-elected Elizabeth Warren.

That said, I’m one happy guy today. And my prediction of a 1.5% popular/ “just under 300” electoral vote win for Obama was a pretty good B+ as calls go.

The Plantation Business

As always, words and images reveal values. The political fight over regulation of business, and the culture-war battle over health plans and contraception, reveal whether partisans are for the few or for the many.

In my view, a fringe of bad business actors, poorly regulated, pushed America off the economic precipice during George W’s term. Republicans believe the answer to our economic problems is less regulation. They trust the few. Government regulates on behalf of the many. Whose side are you on?

Now comes Marco Rubio, the Tea Party darling from my state of Florida, putting forward a bill that would allow any business owner to refuse to cover any health procedure he or she (mostly he, of course) morally objects to. This is clearly the few deciding for the many.

Some Democrats are eager to have this fight over birth control — imagining this front in the culture war was won long ago. They may be right. But as is often the case, the flames of the morality issues obscure the framework that holds up the conservative view — we’ll all be better off if the few can decide for the many.

That’s the plantation system. That’s paternalism. That’s elitism.

The new ruling class, of course, is the oligarchy. Wealthy business leaders. Let them decide and we’ll all be fine. We shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about this stuff. How’d that work out when the oligarchy decided unrestrained speculation was good for all of us? In the 1920s, in the 2000s. Today’s New York Times shows that the financial industry violated the law in 84 percent of foreclosures examined in a California study. Leave business alone and business will improve the economy and all of our lives. That’s the philosophy. What we’ve seen in the past decade — and past two hundred years — says leave business alone and too many businesses will damage the environment and make the economy work best for the few, ignoring whether it helps or hurts the many.

(I’m not anti-business. Most of my clients are businesses. My dad was a VP of General Mills, an ethical company. But too many businesses ignore three-quarters of what corporations are chartered to do — serve the community and employees and stockholders and customers. Too many serve only the people — mostly white guys — who run the companies.)

In the America of myth, we supposedly let the people decide. In fact, America has always been run by an elite — those of higher wealth and education. It seems to me that Democrats generally believe the people should have a stronger voice in how the country is run, including providing for the common good. It seems to me Republicans generally believe — despite their rhetoric — that the few should have a greater say, and that will be good for us all. Either side, taken to the extreme, is dangerous.

“This election is about whose side you stand on,” Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said clearly — as she makes every issue clear with straightforward living-room, not hearing-room, language. “Here’s an example of giving power to insurance companies and corporations to undercut basic health care coverage. I’m going to fight for families to keep that coverage,” Warren said.

Who do you trust? The many, or the few?

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo of Oak Alley Plantation, from angelsghosts.com)